Blowing snow as a natural glaciogenic cloud seeding mechanism

Bart Geerts, Binod Pokharel, David A.R. Kristovich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Winter storms are often accompanied by strong winds, especially over complex terrain. Under such conditions freshly fallen snow can be readily suspended. Most of that snow will be redistributed across the landscape (e.g., behind obstacles), but some may be lofted into the turbulent boundary layer, and even into the free atmosphere in areas of boundary layer separation near terrain crests, or in hydraulic jumps. Blowing snow ice crystals, mostly small fractured particles, thus may enhance snow growth in clouds. This may explain why shallow orographic clouds, with cloud-top temperatures too high for significant ice initiation, may produce (usually light) snowfall with remarkable persistence. While drifting snow has been studied extensively, the impact of blowing snow on precipitation on snowfall itself has not. Airborne radar and lidar data are presented to demonstrate the presence of blowing snow, boundary layer separation, and the glaciation of shallow supercooled orographic clouds. Further evidence for the presence of blowing snow comes from a comparison between snow size distributions measured at Storm Peak Laboratory (SPL) on Mount Werner (Colorado) versus those measured aboard an aircraft while passing overhead, and from an examination of snow size distributions at SPL under diverse weather conditions. Ice splintering following the collision of supercooled droplets on rimed surfaces such as trees does not appear to explain the large concentrations of small ice crystals sometimes observed at SPL.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5017-5033
Number of pages17
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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